Nostradamus and His Prophecies

Nostradamus and His Prophecies

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by Edgar Leoni

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Complete, definitive study of the controversial French prophet: critical biography, historical background, and parallel texts in English and French of all the prophecies, most of the famous — and infamous — interpretations, and much more.


Complete, definitive study of the controversial French prophet: critical biography, historical background, and parallel texts in English and French of all the prophecies, most of the famous — and infamous — interpretations, and much more.

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The prophecies of Nostradamus, written over 400 years ago and projecting almost 2,000 years from now, have fascinated people and provoked debate for centuries; many readers have become newly interested in the prophet at the turn of the millennium. This is the first complete, scholarly translation of the prophecies, providing a definitive study with parallel texts in French and English. The edition includes complete notes and indexes (subjects, geographical names, time specifications, etc.), a critical biography of Nostradamus, his will and personal letters, historical background for the prophecies, and a bibliography of materials on Nostradamus and his commentators. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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NOSTRADAMUS and His Prophecies

By Edgar Leoni

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-12339-4


Nostradamus Bibliography: A Review of the Literature

In considering the works of any so-called prophet, it is extremely important to know which of the works attributed to him are actually his. It is equally important to know the dates by which the various elements of his prophecies were actually in print.

In even the largest and best of the world's libraries, which contain some of the oldest editions, the cataloguing of early editions of Nostradamus' prophecies is in a state of great chaos, with much confusion between dates when parts were written and dated by Nostradamus and dates when particular editions were printed. This condition is due principally to two factors. In the first place, several of the oldest editions are undated. In the second place, there exist several counterfeit editions, bearing false dates of more than a century before they were actually printed. Furthermore, a few of the earliest editions have vanished, leaving behind only vague traces.

To bring order out of chaos is a quality on which the Germans pride themselves, and so it was inevitably a German, Graf Karl von Klinckowström, who spent several years visiting the larger libraries of Western Europe, examining old editions and putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. His work is the backbone of any bibliographical study, but it is by no means perfect. The Graf was not conscious of the falsity of some editions and accepted as accurate or approximate all dates he found on the titlepages. With due acknowledgment to the Graf and to others whose painstaking research has been invaluable, we aim to present here a more complete and accurate coverage of the works of Nostradamus, and of his commentators and critics, than has ever been made.

Below we shall identify each edition briefly, and in English. Following will be found a list with titles arranged chronologically and given in their original tongue. The list of editions of the Centuries goes as far as 1643. The list of works of which Nostradamus was the principal subject includes favorable and unfavorable ones alike and is also chronological, carried through to the present. Works referred to of which Nostradamus is not the principal subject will be found listed in the General Bibliography (A) at the end of the book.

A. Works of Nostradamus


a) The Centuries

The first edition of the Centuries bore in the back the date on which it was printed. On May 4, 1555, Macé Bonhomme of Lyons brought out the Preface to César Nostradamus and four Centuries, with the fourth containing only fifty-three quatrains. No reason is known for the odd number.

A copy of this edition was borrowed from Abbé James by Eugene Bareste, an ardent Nostradamian enthusiast and commentator, in the second quarter of the 19th century. In his book, Bareste gives enough information about the book to convince the investigator that it really existed. There is now no record of a copy of this edition being in any public kind of library, though there may be copies in some private ones in Western Europe.

The existence of the next few editions is somewhat hypothetical. The Antwerp edition of 1590 states that the quatrains in it have been reprinted from an edition of 1555 by Pierre Roux of Avignon. As this 1590 edition contained seven Centuries, the implication is that seven Centuries were already in print in 1555.

Both the Rouen edition of 1649 and the Leyden edition of 1650 profess to be taken from "the first editions printed at Avignon in 1556 and at Lyons in 1558." The existence of an Avignon edition of 1556 is also confirmed by J. J. Held. Klinckowström suggests that its printer was probably Barthélemy Bonhomme.

Yet another edition of 1556 is mentioned by La Croix Du Maine in his article on Nostradamus. He gives an edition by one Sixte Denyse of Lyons.

In each of these cases, it must be remembered, there is a possibility of error through carelessness, misinformation or willful distortion. None of these editions since Bonhomme's has been seen and properly described by a trustworthy authority.

The next edition is that of 1557 by Antoine du Rosne of Lyons. There is no doubt about the existence of this edition; the reader will find Klinckowström's picture of its title-page in the following section. This edition contains the Preface and first seven Centuries, and is thus the earliest authenticated edition containing this first block of the Centuries intact.

The next block of the Centuries, completing the Milliade, contains the Epistle to Henry II and Centuries VIII-X. We have already seen, in connection with the dubious 1556 Avignon edition, reference to a Lyons edition of 1558. This is certainly the earliest date at which this block could appear, for the Epistle is dated by Nostradamus June 27, 1558. A 1558 edition is also mentioned by Held, and later by J. C. Adelung. However, each of these references may simply have been based on the lightly-made assumption that the printing took place the same year that the Epistle was dated.

Brunet, the great 19th-century bibliographer, mentions the sale of an edition of 1560 by Barbe Regnault of Paris. He says only that it contained seven Centuries—which brings us no further than the edition of 1557.

We now come to the first of the Rigaud editions, the most widely known of the earlier editions, the nearest thing to an editio princeps and the inspiration for both acknowledged reprints and counterfeit editions. It is also the first authenticated edition to have the Epistle and Centuries VIII-X.

The 1568 edition of Benoist Rigaud is divided into two sections. The first section contains the Preface and first seven Centuries, with two more quatrains in the Seventh than that of 1557 had. The second section contains the Epistle and last three Centuries. This second section has its own title-page, which gives the appearance of two separate works bound together. This is characteristic of all editions by the Rigaud family, and of many of their imitators.

Of the two counterfeits of this rare edition, the first appeared in 1649 in Paris or Troyes. This was the time of the Fronde, when Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu's less-able successor, was confronted with widespread civil disturbances. The purpose of the counterfeit was to include two false quatrains at the expense of Mazarin.16 They are very poorly done and do not resemble Nostradamus' style at all. Furthermore, the editors, who had actually copied the edition of 1605, even to the same vignette,17 were so maladroit as to include a supplementary section with a dedication dated 1605.

The falsity of the second counterfeit is made glaring by the use of modern orthography on its title-page. Although most of the orthographical changes involved came into use in the last quarter of the 17th century, some of them were still frowned upon in official documents as late as the first half of the 18th century. It was not until the 1740 edition of their Dictionary that the French Academy accepted all these changes. This edition must therefore be placed somewhere between 1675 and 1750.

The next four editions can be considered together, for they all include the same material and the same text. Two of them are by Pierre Ménier of Paris, differing only in that one is undated (but probably of 1588), while the other is dated 1589, and in variations of the title-page. The third one, also of 1589, is by Charles Roger of Paris, who copied Ménier to the last detail. The fourth, dated 1588 but probably printed in 1589, by "The Widow Rossett," follows the same pattern again.

There are several reasons why this Ménier-Roger series is very interesting. They authenticate the Bonhomme edition with a note after Quatrain 53 of Century IV about a new edition. Century VI, for reasons unknown, stops with 71 in one and 74 in the other. Century VII has only twelve quatrains, numbered 72–83, which are not in the Rosne or Rigaud editions. It does not have the Epistle. It does have a Century VIII, consisting of a mere six quatrains, numbered 1–6, all of which are again different from any in Century VIII of Rigaud. While none of these new quatrains is found in any known earlier edition, they are unmistakably in Nostradamus' style and, what is perhaps a more convincing proof of their being genuine, predict nothing on the political horizon of that day. But where they come from is still a mystery. Otherwise, these Paris editions are poor ones, with all of the "proper" quatrains of Centuries VII and VIII absent and the Epistle and Centuries IX and X completely ignored.

The next edition is the one of 1590, already referred to, by François de Sainct Jaure of Antwerp. As we have mentioned, it professes to be taken from a Pierre Roux edition of 1555. It contains the Preface and seven Centuries, with thirty-five quatrains in the seventh. What is most interesting in this edition is that the Preface to César is dated June 22, 1555, instead of March 1 as in all other editions. This suggests that Nostradamus may in truth have released seven Centuries later that same year 1555.

The next edition, of no particular import, is one that neither Klinckowström nor Parker seems to have been aware of. It is another one by Benoist Rigaud, of which the first part bears the date 1594 and the second part the date 1596.

Benoist having died in 1597, his sons, under the leadership of Pierre, set themselves up for four years as the "heirs of Benoist Rigaud." Somewhere in this period 1597–1601 they turned out an undated edition. This material contains the same layout as their father's but with certain variations in the text. On the whole, as with most variations of text, they are comparatively minor and insignificant.

In 1603 appeared an edition by Sylveste Moreau of Paris with a very pretentious and misleading title, containing nothing but the Epistle (with the "Henry II" removed, so as to make it appear to the ignorant addressed to Henry IV) and Centuries VIII–X. This edition is of no worth in any connection.

We now come to a period of conjectured dates, i.e., undated editions. This "oversight" on the part of the printers, which probably has some very good reason, has led to much confusion. It cannot be ascertained whether those of Jean Didier and of Jean Poyet preceded that of Pierre Rigaud, but because those of Didier and those of Poyet have not been counterfeited, while that of Rigaud was followed by two false ones, we shall look at the Poyet first. (Details of the Didier edition, of which the only known copy is in the U.S.S.R., are not available, but Didier took over his father's business in 1593.)

The edition by Jean Poyet of Lyons contains the same material and layout as the Rigaud editions; i.e., it is divided into two parts with the Preface and 642 quatrains in the first part, and the Epistle and 300 quatrains in the second. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about it. Poyet was a printer in Lyons from 1590 to 1614, a master printer after 1602. Within this period, the date is pure speculation.

In 1601 the heirs of Benoist Rigaud split up and went into business for themselves. Pierre turned out another edition, which followed the traditional family pattern. The text varies in places from that of Benoist, or that of the heirs, or from both. Since it did not contain material included in the 1605 edition, Klinckowström and Parker have concluded that it was published before that date, as with the Poyet. However, many later editors preferred to ignore anything beyond the Milliade mentioned by Nostradamus. Furthermore, although Pierre was not legally in business for himself until 1601, yet there appear editions bearing his name as early as 1580. The period for this edition is, therefore, anywhere between 1580 and 1625, but probably 1601–5.

A copy of this edition was "liberated" by the French Revolution from the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Maur, and was found by both Le Pelletier and Bareste in the Bibliothèque Nationale, or, as it was called in Bareste's time, the Royal Library and, in Le Pelletier's time, the Imperial Library. Bareste wrote that "they pretend it's from 1558" but with careful precaution conceded "it was probably printed the same year that the author died, that is, 1566," at which time Pierre could not have been very far beyond the diaper stage.

There is one definitely false Pierre Rigaud counterfeit and another that is either counterfeit or a later edition of Pierre's.

This latter one, the dubious edition, has on its title-page the proper orthography of the period. However, the vignette and layout are different on the title-page, and the usual printer's address ruë Mercière, au coing de ruë Ferrandière, is followed by à l'enseigne de la Fortune. The most important difference, however, and that which has caused even the usually credulous Klinckowström to place it at "Soon after 1650" is that it includes not only the supplementary material of 1605 but also Quatrains 43 and 44 of Century VII, whose first dated appearance is in the edition of 1643.

We tend to consider it authentic for three reasons. In the first place, the "sign of the Fortune" really was Pierre's sign. In the second place, there is no more reason to believe that the printer of this edition copied Garcin or Leffen than vice versa. In the third place, although the two title vignettes are not those of any of the previous Rigauds, in the back of the book there is a third vignette which is identical with the vignette of the second title-page of the 1568 edition. If this Fortune edition, as we shall henceforth refer to it, was actually from the press of Pierre Rigaud, it must be placed between 1605 and 1625. The text is generally an improvement over that in the other Rigauds.

The definitely false Pierre Rigaud edition has an orthography on its title-page of the same modern vintage as the Benoist Rigaud counterfeit discussed above, and must likewise be placed at ca. 1700. Curiously, in this edition there is added to the usual title-page formula "Printed through the efforts of Friar Jean Vallier of the Franciscan Convent of Salon." Whether this was simply the inspiration of a printer brainy enough to think of this impressive formula to cloak its falsity but not brainy enough to see that the right orthography was used, or whether it had some sort of historical foundation, is a matter for conjecture. It is of course possible that a Friar living ca. 1700 instead of ca. 1566 worked on the text, which happens to be particularly good by all accounts. This edition has the standard Rigaud material and layout.

This completes the number of very rare early editions, none of which is known to be in the United States (excluding the counterfeits, of which at least one is). We come now to the less-rare editions, most of which can be found in one or another of the larger libraries of the United States.

The edition of 1605 ranks in importance with the Benoist Rigaud of 1568 because it contains much new material and, for but two quatrains, completes the appearance of Nostradamus' Centuries. The title-page contains the name of neither the printer nor the town in which it was printed, but because of its striking resemblance to a later edition by Pierre Duruau of Troyes (this time without a date), it is assumed that Duruau is the printer and Troyes the place of origin of this edition of 1605.


Excerpted from NOSTRADAMUS and His Prophecies by Edgar Leoni. Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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